Damn Little Scottie embargoed the gaggle transcript on me yesterday but that won’t cure my obsession.
Q Scott, there were reports this morning that in late May of 2003 there were questions raised about whether or not the trailers were bio-weapons — mobile bio-weapons in Iraq. When did the administration come to understand that those trailers were not mobile bio-weapons labs?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that’s a new issue. I mean, I saw the report. This is nothing more than rehashing an old issue that was resolved long ago. I cannot count how many times the President has said the intelligence was wrong.
Now, you bring up an issue that goes back to a time period when the intelligence community had assessed — the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency — that a couple of mobile laboratories that were found in Iraq were for the production of biological weapons. That was the assessment of the intelligence community that stood for some time period.
My obsession continues, click Read More.
Q So, insofar as in May there was a 122-page report filed by DIA that said that these trailers were not bio-weapons, but it was — or bio-weapons labs, and then we heard from the Vice President and Colin Powell after that period suggesting that they still were — that information hadn’t —
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, intelligence is — when an assessment is made, it looks at a lot of different intelligence and it takes time to vet that intelligence, go through it, debate it, discuss it with the intelligence community, look at all the different intelligence coming in, whether it’s human intelligence or signals intelligence or open-source intelligence. And they pull that all together and the intelligence community makes the assessment. The White House is not the intelligence-gathering agency.
Now, I will point out that the reporting I saw this morning was simply reckless and it was irresponsible. The lead in The Washington Post left the impression for the reader that the President was saying something he knew at the time not to be true. That is absolutely false and it is irresponsible, and I don’t know how The Washington Post can defend something so irresponsible.
Q Can I just follow up on what Carl was asking about sort of the time line? When did the President know — after that intelligence was vetted and debated, when did he know —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, as I held out a short time ago, the intelligence assessment was provided by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency on May 28, 2003. The President was asked a question on the very next day, and the President’s statements were based on the joint assessment of the CIA and DIA that was publicly released the day before. So this was publicly provided to the American people, it’s what the White House had. That was the assessment of the intelligence community. So I think it’s important to keep that in mind.
And the suggestion, or impression that was left by some of the reporting was that the President was saying something he knew not to be true. No, the President was saying what the intelligence community assessed to be right, based on their intelligence-gathering.
And in terms of your specific question in terms of if and when the White House became aware of this particular issue, I’m looking into that matter. I’ve asked the — the White House has asked at CIA and the DIA to go and look into that issue. But it’s not the point. The Washington Post even acknowledges in their article that the intelligence community continued to stand by that position for quite some period of time.
Q A further point on The Washington Post report, which I know you’re agitated about today. This final —
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s reckless reporting. Everybody should be agitated about it.
Q They describe the final technical engineering exploitation report on Iraqi suspected biological weapons associated trailers as still being classified. And given the fact that the President and you have said that Mr. Bush has declassified other reports — namely, the NIE, which had historical content — in order to further public debate, and you said it was in the national interest, would it make sense to declassify this report —
MR. McCLELLAN: Kelly, this issue has been looked at by an independent bipartisan commission. They’ve looked at all these issues.
Q But that specific report is still classified?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look at the intelligence community report on these very matters, and look at the recommendations they made, and look at the progress we’re making on their recommendations. That’s where —
Q But would the President consider reclassifying —
MR. McCLELLAN: — that’s where our focus is.
The president is a hard-charging motherfucker. I mean, just look at the deficit. He bought two wars, a $500 billion Medicare clusterfuck, and multiple tax cuts for the very wealthy — all charged to the country’s credit card.
Q Can I ask just a follow-up? The President said earlier — just in talking about the rest of his presidency, that he intends to charge hard in his final two-and-a-half years —
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. He’s a hard charger.
Q — and sprint to the end. But when you have to come up here and acknowledge and discuss front-page reports that —
MR. McCLELLAN: Acknowledge and discuss something that has been stated for quite some time, Elaine? No, no, this is a media issue that you’re getting into. Go ahead, though.
Q Well, this is exactly what I’m trying to get at. When you’re having to discuss stories which focus attention once again on how the President took this country to war, does that make it more difficult for the President to —
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, the President is focused on victory in Iraq, because a free Iraq will be an example for the rest of the Middle East and it will help lay the foundations of peace for generations to come.
You know, I saw some reporting talking about how this latest revelation — which is not something that is new, this is all old information that’s being rehashed — was an embarrassment for the White House. No, it’s an embarrassment for the media that is out there reporting this. I brought up with some of you earlier today some of the reporting that was based off this Washington Post report, and I talked to one network about it and they have publicly — well, they’ve expressed their apologies to the White House. I hope they will go and publicly apologize on the air about the statements that were made, because I think it’s important, given that they had made those statements in front of all their viewers. And so we look forward to that happening, as well.
Q Is it a distraction, though, to have to come up and talk about this, answer questions about how the U.S. went to war when these kinds of stories do appear?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that’s where the debate is now. The debate is on how do we succeed in Iraq. And the President is focused on victory. That’s what the American people want. They want to see our troops succeed. They want to see our troops achieve victory, and then return home with the honor that they have deserved and that they earned.
Q Do you think in any way, shape or form, his credibility has been —
MR. McCLELLAN: We’ll continue to press it — no, I think the credibility of those who are making these wild accusations has been affected. And, in fact, the President of the United States has spoken very clearly to these issues multiple times, as have other administration officials over the course of the last couple of years.
Q Scott, you said the President remains focused on victory in Iraq. What is the current definition of “victory in Iraq,” and does the President expect to see that before he leaves office?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, and he’s talked about victory in Iraq. Victory in Iraq will be when the terrorists and Saddam loyalists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy. He’s talked about it as being when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the defense of the Iraqi people. And he’s also said that victory will be achieved when Iraq will not become a safe haven for terrorists. The terrorists have made it clear that this is the central front in the war on terrorism. They recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. So the President has spelled out when victory will be achieved.
And the Iraqi security forces — there are more than 250 [sic]* Iraqi security forces now — they are assuming more and more of the lead in the fight and they are controlling more and more territory. So we’ve got a very clear strategy for how we move forward. And we are going to continue to stand with the Iraqi people as they move forward on building a lasting democracy.
Q Does he expect to see this victory before he leaves office?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ken, the President has never put a timetable on achieving our objectives. We will stay there as long as necessary, not a day longer, is what we have always said. But we will succeed. We will prevail. The terrorists want to shake our will, and they think that we will lose our nerve. The President will not. We will complete the mission and our troops will return home with the honor that they deserve.
Whew! Scottie misspoke a bit there, and got both a sic and an asterisk for his troubles. 250 trained Iraqi security force members? Sounds about right to me.
Now, here’s your Daily Les.
Q In the same week as your strongly specific answer to my question about Homeland Security Brian Doyle’s arrest, Newsweek reports another Homeland Security sexual violator, Frank Figueroa, charged with exposing himself to a 16-year-old girl. And my question: What is the President’s reaction to this latest very bad news from Homeland Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: My reaction would be just the same as it was for the first gentleman that you brought up if it is true. And I don’t know the specifics on that matter —
Q — any change can be done about this? This is Homeland Security —
MR. McCLELLAN: — I don’t know the specifics on that matter.